It’s not only farming that has huge impact on biodiversity

Date: Monday 10th April 2017

Sir, I note that Mr. J Dumont writes yet again (Herald, 25th February) and in a long letter in the March edition of Cumbria Life castigating farmers for the perceived poor state of the countryside. Over many years he has continuously blamed farmers for biodiversity declining even in the Lake District.

I am not a farmer, but come from a long-standing mining family on my mother’s side, originating at Coniston before moving to Patterdale to work at Greenside mine until it closed. I have had an interest in mining in Cumbria for 45 years. I find Mr. Dumont’s derogatory comments regarding farmers very one-sided and in my opinion obsessive.

I wonder if he has read the excellent publications by James Rebanks and Amanda Owen about life on working hill farms which demonstrate that practices on the fells have changed little over hundreds of years and present a totally different view to the one he portrays.

I do not disagree that there may be less biodiversity than perhaps 50 years ago. Using Patterdale as an example at that time, there were far more sheep on the fells. In the 1950s there were so many fish in Ullswater that people came from Yorkshire and Lancashire to catch them using maggots and nets to the point that local people such as Jimmy Cooper fought to get fishing licensed on the lake.

Johnny Pool, from Glenridding, caught more than a hundred fish in one day off the steamer pier at Glenridding in the early 1960s. I well remember my grandmother and her sister, who worked in the Glenridding hotels, being laid off during winter when they shut. When my mother was a child most of the residents in Glenridding used dry closets and it was not until the early 1950s, when Greenside mine built blocks of flushing toilets, that they were removed. My grandmother used to do her washing in the wash house and did not have a bathroom until the early 1980s.

So, what has changed since then? We have a tourist industry which is now all year round, putting additional pressure on the fells and on the infrastructure, such as waste water treatment plants and septic tanks which are still very common in the Lakes.

We now use vast quantities of detergents which has a huge impact on the environment (a hamlet near Carlisle has been banned from using certain ones due to the impact on the local river). Algae bloom used to be unheard of and is caused by phosphates mainly from the use of detergents. United Utilities is upgrading its waste water treatment works at Windermere partially to remove phosphates which are having a detrimental effect on the lake.

It has now been recognised that water from many of the mine workings in the county is having a major impact on the rivers and lakes, especially from zinc. A unique treatment plant has been installed at Force Crag mine, near Keswick, to reduce the impact of heavy metals from the mine water, and others are being proposed for Threlkeld mine, which is one of the most polluting in the country, and the Alston area.

The above is not an exhaustive list and not connected to farming but the issues mentioned are having a huge impact on biodiversity, which Mr. Dumont may wish to consider before he writes further correspondence on the matter. Yours etc,